As Australians embrace the use of home batteries powered by rooftop solar and the number of electric vehicles on the road increases, recyclers face a bewildering array of regulations in dealing with the new materials.
Australia is building its capacity to recycle lithium-ion batteries (LIBs), a critical requirement to support a circular economy and make use of the valuable components used in electric vehicles and energy storage systems.
Australian Battery Recycling Initiative (ABRI) CEO Katharine Hole says the speed of the transition for both electric vehicles and home energy storage systems has caught the industry and regulators by surprise and they need to find the best tools to safely and sustainably manage the new technologies.
ABRI and Deakin University are collaborating in a project to identify the challenges involved in recycling LIBs and to provide a guide for recyclers. A major challenge for the industry is the multitude of regulatory bodies within and across states and territories, from transport and storage to safety labelling and waste disposal.
“We need to look at opportunities across Australia to strengthen, streamline and harmonise the regulatory framework governing batteries, particularly product quality, transport and waste tracking,” says Ms Hole.
“Standardised management of new and used battery tracking will support improved transparency and deliver a trusted source of data to inform future policy work.”
She says that industry and consumers want clarity to be able to answer questions such as: What material have I got, how do I store it, and how do I move it?
These are some of the issues being investigated by the project researchers, two Deakin law students and two PhD students from the ARC Training Centre for Future Energy Storage Technologies (storEnergy).
While the project will help unravel the existing procedures and hopefully provide a clearer picture for industry, it is also providing valuable training to the next generation of energy researchers and regulators, says storEnergy Director, Professor Maria Forsyth.
“The law students will gain knowledge about the scientific side of environmental regulation and how difficult that is to translate into a regulatory framework, while the PhD researchers will gain an understanding of how science is interpreted from a legal and regulatory perspective,” says Professor Forsyth.
“It’s a new industry and if we can identify the areas that require changes and what can be replicated across states and territories, it will help streamline the process for everyone.”
The project investigation is split into two pathways – lead acid batteries, where the recycling industry is well established, and mixed batteries (lithium, alkaline, nickel etc), which includes new and emerging technology.
While for lead acid batteries the environmental and health risks are predominantly linked to corrosion, with lithium the key risk is fire, which creates the need for a different system as well as major issues with insurance.
“Recyclers need clear and consistent rules to transport and store batteries safely. The range of battery chemistries, their different end uses and different environmental and safety impacts need to be considered.” says Ms Hole.
“There is no one size fits all approach. We are still learning about what’s best practice in fire extinguishers and processes for some of these new battery chemistries.”
The project will investigate what elements of the recycling framework for lead acid batteries could be carried across for other battery technologies, with a focus on lithium, initially in three jurisdictions – Victoria, NSW and Queensland.
An important outcome will be a table for ABRI members which answers questions such as: Do I need a licence to transport it? How do I store it (e.g. what sort of containers, what labelling requirements?) The project will also provide information for ABRI to advise government where further work is needed.
“We realise that harmonisation across states and territories is probably an unrealistic goal, but we would like to get harmonisation across processes such as national data reporting, e.g. to improve transparency about where the waste has been moved and where it’s been recycled,” says Ms Hole.
The researchers will present a paper at an open forum of battery researchers and industry later this month (November 2021) and a final report by March 2022.
Dr Timothy Khoo, Manager storEnergy: email@example.com; ph. 0422 191303
Ms Katharine Hole, CEO Australian Battery Recycling Initiative: firstname.lastname@example.org